Bohemian Rhapsody Review
He is the champion
Undoubtedly one of the most influential, famous and unique music acts of all time, it seems about time Queen would be given the big-screen treatment.Rightfully, the effervescent and truly larger-than-life leading man Freddie Mercury is the star in this film, which sparked controversies even ahead of its release. Taken over by Dexter Fletcher after the departure in disgrace of Bryan Singer, the film’s trailer focussed on Queen’s famous songs and Mercury’s on-stage persona, rather than issues of his sexuality and tragic AIDS affliction. In actuality, the film does allude to Mercury’s personal life, though in reducing it to a conversation between the musician and fiancée Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and a scene with leather-clad men which reeks of exploitation, there is certainly some nuance left on the cutting room floor.
Mercury’s story – as a person of Asian heritage, as a man, as a musician, as a bisexual (or gay) man – isn't explored in any meaningful depth, and at times the film reads almost like a play-by-play Wikipedia page brought to life. In spite of that, a fantastic soundtrack and compelling performances mean it is a colourful and enjoyable homage to one of music’s great bands. Skillful and atmospheric recreations of some of Queen’s most memorable live performances certainly don’t hurt, either.
There’s no doubt about it – the lead performance is far and away the highlight of the film. You couldn’t accuse Malek of under-committing; the walk, the voice, the swagger, the fake teeth… it’s all so Mercury.
The lead performance is far and away the highlight of the film.
Somewhat ironically, this is a fairly straight-laced portrait of Mercury, and his role in propelling Queen to mega-stardom. It’s a film about the band and its frontman, rather than the story of Mercury himself. It would be virtually impossible to create a totally dull or un-moving film with this source material, though some more nuanced attention to some of the painful elements of Mercury’s life away from the band or some breaks from the established conventions of biopic telling may have done the film a few favours.
Given the on-set troubles that plagued the production of the film, the filmmakers could be forgiven for simply following the conventions and templates of all the musical biopics we’ve seen before – but the story of Freddie Mercury is too spectacular to fit into this mould, and at times it does fall flat. At one point in the film, Malek-as-Mercury turns to a producer (Mike Myers, whose casting is part of a non-diegetic in-joke) and says that formulas are a waste of time. Someone should have told the scriptwriters that.
That said, alongside lots of over-worked poignant soundbites and somewhat weird subplots (particularly one based around a mic stand) there’s lots of great music to help the film along. One of the band’s most famous performances in real life, the scene which depicts the Live Aid concert, is extraordinary and you’re virtually guaranteed a few stood-up hairs on your arm by the end.
In a year when it looks as though another film about stardom, music and rockstars might be sweeping the awards shows, Malek seemingly has a good chance of being awarded some silverware himself; this is a remarkable performance – or impersonation – that lifts the film to the next level. There had been talk of British actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Whishaw taking on the role, though from the first moment Malek appears on screen it’s apparent he is an utterly perfect choice.
Those who know the Egyptian-American actor from Mr Robot will already know him as a compelling force, but in taking on one of music’s most charismatic figures Malek demonstrates a whole other facet of performance. At the start of the film the hammy accent and exaggerated dental work seem a little much, but as the film rolls on Malek grows into the performance.
Enjoyable, well-performed and with a killer (queen) soundtrack.
The film was co-produced by Roger Taylor and Brian May, and there’s likely an argument to say that in a film about the intense relationship between Mercury, May, Taylor and John Deacon, there simply wasn’t any need to explore Mercury’s hedonistic lifestyle, struggle with illness, concept of identity or romantic relationships.
However, in avoiding or skating over elements of Mercury’s lifestyle, the film almost shies away from the Mercury persona fans knew of and loved. It is a shame, because with such a charismatic lead performance, Bohemian Rhapsody could have been a more intelligent, complex and revealing film than it is. It certainly leaves a gap in the market for a future film to delve into the real life of one of the world’s great frontmen.
Enjoyable, well-performed and with a killer (queen) soundtrack, Bohemian Rhapsody is a little paint-by-numbers and could certainly have done with some more insight into Mercury’s real-life persona, though excellent music and the admittedly interesting origin story power just about carry it home.
There’s little doubt that the changes in lead actors, scriptwriters and directors have left the film a shadow of its former self... but the show must go on, after all. Even the most casual of Queen fans should see this to see those incredible songs performed, though there is certainly another reason to catch this in the cinema - Malek’s performance is nothing short of mercurial.
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